Book Review – Choke by Sian Beilock, PhD what the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to

I mentioned this book in my blog several months back. It took me a while to read this book and get around to writing about it. Here are my thoughts on this book:
Every few years a book comes along that really addresses a very important aspect of life and proposes solutions to the nagging problems we face everyday. This is one such book. Author Sian Beilock, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. The writing style is casual yet scientific. It does not require someone to be well versed in brain science but is scientific enough so that the book is interesting to read.
The goal of the book is to understand, analyze and explain what makes people choke. People tend to choke, when it matters most that they keep cool – say when you are writing your SAT exam, the single putt that decides the fate of the US Open Golf tournament, the all important sales call etc. Sian identifies that there are really two classes of skill sets the ones that require a lot of working memory and the second that uses well practiced and trained activity that does not use working memory. She gives strategies to cope with stressful situations.
The book starts of by describing why people choke in scenarios that require lots of working memory. First few chapters are very interesting with lots of good example scenarios and case studies including sports, competitive tests like LSAT, and even how gender and racial biases play into adding to the stress and making people choke. The author draws these examples from her own consultancy experience where she helped athletes understand and overcome their handicaps especially with regard to dealing with stress of being judged in front of spectators.
There were several tips to ensure success under stress while doing things that require a lot of working memory like reaffirm your self worth, map out your complexities or capabilities both to make yourself feel good and get confidence, write and meditate away about your worries, think differently etc. The two pieces of advice that will be useful are utilize "Obama effect" and practice under pressure.
There is also advice to combat performance flops under pressure in sports like sing a song while putting (distract yourself so that you don’t focus on technique), don’t slow down and hence over analyze, practice under stress etc. which are all very useful. The advice I like a lot and found it useful is cure the yips by changing your grip or alter your technique.
There were a lot of examples from Golf, Baseball and Football where choking happened for even well established sports personalities and also for students who are going for the college selections.
Finally there is a chapter on what choking in business world is and tips to avoid or cure those.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The tips were very useful and each chapter had some high lighted text that in one sentence gives the gist if you want to go back for a refresher.
The techniques are simple yet based on deep psychological understanding.
This book is a must read for those who either by themselves or through their children face the following stressful situations:

  • Appearing for competitive tests like SAT, ACT
  • College sports, professional or amateur golf or any other sport
  • Acting, singing and other pursuits that require public performances
  • Speaking in public, doing presentations in situations that are very important for business

Even if you are not in any of these situations, if you are curious about psychology behind stress and choking check out "Choke" by Sian Beilock.

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